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Elevation (Part 1 of 2)
Leaders elevate to reach summits. As slope rises, so must leadership.
I soaked in the view from six peaks in 14 months. Some were well-marked, long trails that were more hike than climb (Pikes Peak, 26 miles). Some stood tall, surpassing 19,000 feet (Kilimanjaro). And others involved steep alpine terrain that required technical equipment (Rainier). Each one spawns cherished memories and a bit of bravado.
But here is the truth. In every climb, there came a point I wanted to quit.
At the start of each ascent, I have a good attitude, ready to lead teams to the top. Easy street. Gear is not an issue and my body is fueled and rested. The terrain is normally flat and the weather agreeable.
But invariably, the pitch steepens and the pace slows. Breathing becomes intentional, and team chatter dissipates. Enthusiasm wanes as fatigue sets in. Uncontrollable variables heighten the challenge. Snow, rain, wind, and freezing temperatures bore through my clothes. Covered crevasses, possible avalanches, and wildlife prey on my senses. Equipment failures attack when I least expect it. And when I need strength the most, I don’t feel like eating or drinking. Negative self-talk creeps in. If no one could find me out, I‘d stop and turn back.
On August 7, we left Muir base camp just after midnight. We awoke to howling winds blowing ice and sand into our faces. We immediately threw on ski masks and added insulating layers. Despite fresh batteries, my head lamp failed. This was going to be one tough climb to the top of Rainier. And so we began.
After crossing the Muir snowfield, we had our first break at 2 a.m. I was already thinking, “What the heck did I get myself into?” Guides checked on their teams and warned that the most difficult sections were still to come.
Some turned back to Muir. If I turned, would my team give up as well? If I continued without inspiration, would I put my team in danger?
The unwritten covenant of leading people: To be the leader I aspire to be, I must elevate to match the slope before me.
Settle the mental gymnastics before you even get in the situation. That’s what saved me on Disappointment Cleaver. When I became discouraged, I fell back on the truth. It is imperative that leaders have bedrock beneath them for times such as these. Climbing mountains figuratively or otherwise requires self-assurance. Here are some techniques to ensure truth and sure footing when your toe nails turn black and your feet get sore and blistered.
- You will rise to your level of training. Conquer smaller mountains in preparation. Listen intently to your instructors and learn how to self- and team- arrest in the event of a fall. Be ready for anything.
- Extreme endurance. You’ve trained hours per day for years. Despite your screaming hamstrings, know that you have the physical endurance to succeed. Be fit to lead.
- Mind over matter. Climbing is 75% mental. Win the battle of the mind first and know you can handle the stress of difficult situations.
- Zero defects. Invest in the tools and clothes required to handle variation in weather and terrain. Cut no corners, and pursue only perfection.
- Fanatical self-discipline. From proper planning to mimicking our climbing guides’ every move, radical discipline separates the boys from the men.
- Care of self. Even if you lose your appetite or feel the pressure to meet a deadline, eat, drink, and rest at breaks. I can only take care of others after taking care of myself.
- What can stop you from elevation? Nothing except yourself.
- Dig deep for the strength within, and continued your march across the glaciers of MU and up steep snowfields of CPOE. Resist the wind and cold of opposition, and crest the summit with elation. And don’t forget to celebrate.
With all these summits you face, you’ll learn more about yourself and your leadership abilities. Learn to elevate as the slope rises. Make it an unspoken covenant with those you lead.
Elevation Part 2 will contain 20+ key actions to help you move from base camp to summit.
Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.